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Durbin: ‘All Hell Will Break Loose’ Over Abortion Language in Spending Bill

Durbin said Tuesday that he wouldn't be surprised if the debate ran up to Christmas Eve. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Durbin said Tuesday that he wouldn't be surprised if the debate ran up to Christmas Eve. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat warned Tuesday that “all hell will break loose,” if Republicans force the issue on abortion language in the year-end omnibus bill.  

“Just heard about it for the first time today, and if they try to do it, all hell will break loose,” Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said of the provision. “You can imagine. The phrase ‘Hobby Lobby’ perks up the ears of many members of the Senate.”  

The Illinois Democrat said that given recent events, he wouldn’t be surprised if the debate runs up through Christmas Eve.  

Durbin’s comments came on a day that members of his party were more bearish than in recent days about getting the work completed on necessary end-of-the-year tax and spending.  

“We have about 40 or 42 poison pill riders, but some are really big — Hobby Lobby, campaign finance reform — things that should have never even been on the appropriations,” said Appropriations Ranking Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland. “So we’re kind of stuck at the riders stage.”  

A Democratic aide said the “Hobby Lobby” reference, invoking a Supreme Court decision, was to a pair of provisions already contained in the House’s Labor-HHS-Education spending plan involving a conscience clause and abortion non-discrimination.  

Despite the latest consternation from across the aisle, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was still looking forward to completing the omnibus spending measure, as well as a bundle of expired tax provisions that would run at least two years.  

“It’s our hope here as we go toward the end of the session to pass a collection of appropriation bills written by Republicans. We would have passed them one at a time, but for the fact that Senate Democrats did not allow that,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.  

Earlier in the day, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus told reporters they would push Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., for a six-week continuing resolution in order to avoid the kind of end-of-the-year Christmas tree bill that often passes with lawmakers eager to get home for the holidays.  

“We’ve had conversations with Paul already about that,” said HFC Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “A lot of times when deadlines come around here, we don’t always like the decisions that get made.”  

But senior appropriators, such as GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, wanted nothing of stopgap funding into January or beyond.  

“CRs are bad government. Appropriations bills are good government because they set priorities and make decisions,” Alexander said. “Just automatically spending next year what we did last is lazy government.”  

Durbin told reporters that when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said last week the omnibus deadline could get pushed back a week with a short CR, he had a bad feeling about the endgame.  

“Let me just be honest having been around here for a little while. When Leader McCarthy in the House said well, if we don’t make Dec. 11th, we’ll make Dec. 18th, and I thought ‘oh my god, it’s Dec. 24th.’ So, I hope I’m wrong,” Durbin said.  

Emma Dumain and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

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